Life doesn’t always go smoothly, have you noticed that?
It’s easy to feel in love and happy with your partner during times of success and relative calm. But times like that don’t come along all that often.
My husband and I figure we have had one year that was relatively free of stress. Fortunately it was the second year of our marriage. We had weathered the normal “sturm and drang” of the first year and had established a warm, trusting connection between us. We had one year to enjoy that state of marital bliss before life came along to stir things up.
Change is Inevitable
The old saying goes there are two things certain in life, “taxes and death”. I would go on to add a third, change. Change happens continually and most of the time unpredictably. Humans don’t really like change, for the most part. We would prefer to have our routines and daily lives remain stable and secure so that we can know what to expect. Unfortunately, this is not true to life. Life has a way of shaking things up, sometimes at the worst possible times.
Marriages, if they are to last, have to change as well. They have to adapt to the flow of change in life and become more than they originally were, if they are to succeed. Most of us don’t handle it that well and the result is the amazingly high rate of divorce. The popular belief is that we are “serial monogamists” and that it’s normal to be divorced in the 22nd Century. But if you are like me and ever experienced a divorce, you know there is nothing “normal” about it and it causes damage to anyone touched by it, whether you have kids or not.
So how are we to surf successfully through the storms of life and remain connected as a couple?
I am sure there are books on that particular topic, though I have to admit to never having read one. There are lots of books on communication and deepening intimacy, but I don’t think I’ve seen any that directly address the topic of managing stressful times together as a couple. It’s easy to feel connected to another person when things are going well, its something else altogether to stay connected when things are not going well.
Human Nature is to Find Someone to Blame for Our Unhappiness
This is because knowing who is to blame helps us solve the problem. If we know where the problem is we can do whatever it needs to be done to fix it. But, in the case of marriage, that often looks like divorce. We figure, we are unhappy, so it must because of my partner. “Just look at (him/her) (he/she) is so (fat, addicted, mean, selfish, whatever) and obviously doesn’t care about (him/her) self or me. How can I be happy with a partner like that?”
Ah, we have solved the problem!
Now we know what to do, we can get a divorce and it will be all better.
I can honestly tell you that two divorces did not make the difference in my happiness. My happiness or unhappiness resides inside of me! This need to find blame is so difficult to overcome that it can easily convince us that the one we love is responsible for our feelings of unhappiness. We so desperately want to find an answer that we will abandon our beloved when we think they are the cause of our despair.
Stress and Change are a Normal Part of Life
The stressful and difficult things that happen throughout our lives are a normal part of life. Learning to weather it without blaming someone for our difficulties is a challenge. But getting to an understanding of how we project the cause of our unhappiness onto our spouse can actually help you find happiness within yourself.
If you are looking for the cause of a stink in your kitchen and your focus is on the rotten wood under the sink, but the source of it is the garbage, replacing the wood won’t fix your problem. You have to figure out where your garbage is and clean it out.
Releasing your partner from the stress of your blame can do wonders for your relationship just by itself.
When you are under stress from the normal things that happen in life: lost jobs, job insecurity, financial problems, children who are having problems, legal problems, deaths, caring for an elderly parent – whatever – it will cause stress on your marriage. You will want to blame your unhappiness on your spouse. “Why won’t he get a better job?” “Can’t she figure out somewhere else for her parent to live?” “She’s the reason the boy is having such a hard time, she wasn’t hard enough on him.” “If he just didn’t spend so much.”
You see? All of the above are reasonable explanations for stressful situations, but they don’t really solve the problem. Blame never does. It seems like it will, but all it does is creates problems of it’s own.
Your Unhappiness Resides in You
The next time you want to blame your spouse for your unhappiness, remember that your unhappiness resides in you. It’s your job to change how you feel, not your spouses! If you are unhappy, choose to talk to your spouse about it. If you can do it without blaming him/her, they will share their concern and help you try to figure out what you need to do to make things different. But if you, even subtly convey that you think your unhappiness is because of them, what you will get instead is anger, resentment and arguing. Partners will naturally feel defensive and try to protect themselves against attack.
It is natural to respond to blame with anger. People so often get upset when someone suddenly lashes out in anger, in what appears to be an unprovoked attack, when what happened was that the person lashing out felt subtly blamed. When your partner startles you with what feels like an unprovoked angry response, notice whether or not something you just said may have led them to believe you were blaming them for something. Chances are you were subtly blaming them, or at least, they thought you were. When people are going through stressful times, they are even more sensitive to the possibility that they are being blamed.
Let go of Blame and Anger
Stressful times are a time to pull together, to look for solutions and give each other a sense of support. Yet it’s very hard to accomplish, even in the best of marriages. Knowing that the stress itself will cause you to look to your partner for blame can help you let it go. It’s the stress causing the sense of blame, not the blamed one causing the stress. Learning to notice how you use blame subtly can ease the strain of stressful times. Lean on each other; don’t push each other away by blaming the other for your unhappiness. Your partner can be your best resource.